Tobin Addresses Controversy Among Catholic Hierarchy, Up to Pope Francis

Late yesterday, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released a statement regarding claims about internal conflicts within the international Church:

First, I need to emphasize that I do not have any privileged information about this matter, nor do I have the facts necessary to come to a definitive, impartial judgement. Nonetheless, the allegations lodged by Archbishop Viganò involving Pope Francis are substantive, and need to be investigated in a prompt and just manner.

The present impasse in the Church, unfolding on an international level, has caused confusion and division among the faithful, even locally. Only Pope Francis can resolve the serious crisis in which the Church now finds herself, and I respectfully urge His Holiness to address this matter as soon as possible. The future direction of the Church, its spiritual welfare, and the faith of God’s people, are at stake.

At issue are allegations in a letter by retired nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that high ranking members of the church hierarchy strove to protect prominent American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was broadly thought to make a regular practice of inappropriate relationships with seminarians and who has been accused of abusing minors.  Viganò also alleges that Pope Francis re-elevated McCarrick after Pope Benedict XVI had removed all of his privileges and ordered him to live a quiet life of prayer and penance.

Bishop Tobin spoke with the Ocean State Current about this matter earlier yesterday.  “Before, I was saying that we had a double-barrel shotgun [pointed at the Church], with the McCarrick situation and the Pennsylvania grand jury,” said Tobin, referring to the release of investigative documents showing hundreds of abuse cases in Pennsylvania over some 70 years.  “I guess it’s a triple shotgun that we have now, with all the allegations about the pope and Archbishop Viganò and the Vatican and so forth.”*

The bishop encouraged Catholics who are understandably “angry and upset and confused and wondering” to balance what they’re hearing with their own “good experiences in their parishes, with their priests, with Catholic schools, with the Church in general.”

Linking institutional divisions among cardinals and bishops to theological differences covering matters that would be considered social issues in the secular context, Bishop Tobin said:

I think it’s very clear that we’ve entered a new phase in terms of the Church on an international level. It’s unprecedented for us, at least in our time, my time, that bishops and archbishops are on different sides, publicly, on an issue, that bishops are calling cardinals liars, that some of the hierarchy have asked the pope to resign. I think this has revealed a clear power struggle, a clear rift, in the Church, and it focuses on the international level are on the pontificate of Pope Francis, and that’s not for me to say “yes” or “no” or positive or negative, but it’s clearly around his pontificate.

Still, Tobin emphasized that “every pope has supporters and detractors” and that Pope Francis is “fulfilling his pontificate as he was chosen to do and to the best of his abilities and to the best of his conscience, and we need to admire that and to support that.”


* Bracketed text added at 5:07 p.m., 8/31/18, to clarify that the bishop was characterizing how the scandals relate to each other in harming the Church, not the political weapon that one faction within the Church has against another.

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